Chasing the Money

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First flight of Boeing’s T-X competitor took place on December 20, three years after Boeing and Saab signed their teaming agreement and one year after the design was certified. Boeing

RFPs issued on December 30 by the US Air Force for its new T-X advanced pilot trainer have set the stage for a possible 2017 award of a contract worth an estimated $16.3 billion. An integrated ground-based training system and 350 aircraft are included in the programme, which is one of the largest competitive procurements in worldwide military aviation.

While the RFP was issued before the end of 2016 as scheduled, there have been a number of surprises in the competition. The most dramatic was the announcement of a new, last-minute entry from a team led by the US company Sierra Nevada in conjunction with Turkish Aviation Industries (TAI). Earlier in the T-X programme, Sierra Nevada had competed – unsuccessfully – for risk reduction funding.

Sierra Nevada and TAI’s Freedom Trainer is a new design, like those being offered by the Boeing-Saab and Northrop Grumman-BAE Systems teams. The Lockheed Martin-Korean Aerospace team is offering the T-50A (an upgraded T-50) and Raytheon-Leonardo is bidding with the T-100 (an upgraded M-346). The Freedom Trainer is an all-composite design. It will be assembled at a new facility to be built in the Huntsville Alabama area, although the single flying prototype, first shown on December 15, was built at the team’s facility in Centennial, Colorado, home of the joint Sierra Nevada-TAI design team that reportedly started in 2011.

The Freedom Trainer is reported to have a low per-flight-hour cost due to high fuel efficiency (reportedly a third more economical than the T-38C Talon) from its two Williams two-spool FJ44-4M turbofan engines. TAI is expected to provide subsystems developed for Turkey’s TF-X fighter programme to meet the RFP’s requirement for fifth-generation avionics and flight systems. Even if the Freedom Trainer is not selected for the T-X programme, Sierra Nevada has announced it will be marketed internationally.

The Sierra Nevada entry may not be the only surprise response to the RFP. Textron is reportedly considering offering an unspecified modified version of its Scorpion trainer, which had previously been considered a non-starter in the T-X competition because of its inability to meet the RFP’s requirement for high-G manoeuvring capability. David C Isby